It is a truism that war is—by its very nature—tragic. For soldiers, it is about killing and being killed. World War II resulted in the deaths of more than 70 million people, a number which tends to overwhelm and obscure the individual lives lost. Sometimes the tragedy of war is easier to comprehend in small doses. That is what Mark Obmascik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former writer for the Denver Post, has accomplished in this fast-paced tale of the lives of two soldiers—a Japanese surgeon and an American infantryman—whose paths crossed on a desolate island in the northern Pacific.
Political scientists who study international relations often seek to discern patterns of state behavior from history and to formulate theories or typologies to explain that behavior. Such an approach can contribute to our understanding of why states behave as they do, but human action never wholly conforms to neat formulas.
Bertil Lintner, in his enlightening new book The Costliest Pearl, describes today’s struggle for supremacy in the Indian Ocean as a new Great Game, or alternatively, a new Cold War. The major contestants are China, the United States and India, but subsidiary powers such as Australia, France, and Japan are also involved.
Japan’s current defense policy is shaped by three principal factors: domestic politics, perceptions of external threats, and its alliance with the United States. In her new book Japan Rearmed, Sheila A Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, meticulously explores the evolution of Japan’s military policy from the beginning of the Cold War to the present.
Some international relations scholars and commentators are rediscovering that Eurasia is a geopolitical unit, a “supercontinent”, in the words of Bruno Maçães in his interesting new book The Dawn of Eurasia. Maçães traces the origins of the term Eurasia to Austrian geologist Eduard Suess in 1885, but the idea that Eurasia should be viewed as a single geopolitical unit is traceable to the great British geopolitical theorist Sir Halford Mackinder in a little-remembered article in 1890 entitled “The Physical Basis of Political Geography”.
Writing the truth to power is difficult, courageous, and uncertain in its effect. The importance of the late Gao Hua’s How the Red Sun Rose is evidenced by the fact that it is banned in China despite having been first published in Chinese in Hong Kong in 2000 and reprinted twenty-odd times. The book is, as Joseph Esherick notes in the Forward, “widely known, broadly respected, and officially proscribed.”
The great British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder wrote that great statesmanship requires “geographical capacity” and “an insight into the minds of other nations.” He explained geographical capacity as a “mind which flits easily over the globe, which thinks in terms of the map, which quickly clothes the map with meaning, which correctly and intuitively places the commercial, historical, or political drama on its stage.”